Conquer your fear of flying – expert tips for anxious travellers

Feeling freaked about flying? You’re not alone. There’s a whopping 40 per cent of people who have a fear of flying and this week’s news about the Latam flight that suddenly dropped 300 metres will not appease your anxiety.

The fact that the cause is still unreported will not be helping, one of the biggest causes of flying anxiety is the unknown.

Events like that are uncommon and compared to the number of flights that are happening around the world at any minute of the day, are highly infrequent.

Good editor Carolyn Enting, who is a frequent traveller, has to actively prepare for flying as she is not a fan.

Here are her top tips that she’s tried and gleaned over the years to make flying a calmer experience:

  • When you’re feeling uncomfortable or anxious, use your breath. Inhale for three counts and exhale for four counts or longer. The longer breath out tells your mind that you are safe, and the body responds accordingly with slower breaths, and you will feel instantly calmer.

  • Wear noise-cancelling headphones or earplugs. If your headphones are not great quality, wearing earplugs under your headphones will cancel out all that noise around you.

  • Pack an eye mask for long-haul flights. A game changer once you have your earphones on.

  • Create or choose a calming playlist and put it on a loop. Gentle pipe music tracks or recordings in nature – the wind in the trees, birds and crickets singing, a waterfall or bubbling stream. You’ll feel like you’re on a beautiful meditation retreat or forest bathing. Most airlines have calming tracks to choose from on international flights. Carolyn’s current favourite on Air New Zealand is Breathing Space by Sacred Earth, which she looped for five hours of turbulence on a recent flight. If you are flying domestically, create a playlist on your phone that you can still access on flight mode.

  • During turbulence, imagine you are on a bus or driving your car on a bumpy road. The air pockets and weather are the sky’s equivalent of potholes and speed bumps. Airlines also purposely use jet streams to get places faster. It’s normal to have bumps along the way.

  • Another trick to make yourself feel more grounded during turbulence is to position your feet on tippy toes while you are seated. Hot tip from a flight attendant and it works.

  • Meditate. Learn a calming meditation that you resonate with, or download one on your phone. It will take your focus to a calmer and more centered place.

  • Do crosswords or word find puzzles. This helps to focus your mind on the task at hand rather than worrying about turbulence.

  • Watch movies that are familiar or make you feel safe and happy. That could be a chick flick or even a children’s film like Frozen or Paddington Bear. Carolyn confesses to all of the above!

  • Take a cuddle buddy – something to hug to your chest. It could be a shawl, scarf, blanket or travel pillow. This creates a comforting feeling and fun fact – Karl Lagerfeld always cuddled a pillow on flights.

  • Try hypnotherapy or NPL (neuro-linguistic programming). Carolyn has a recording of her hypnotherapy session saved on her phone which she often listens to before flying or on the plane, to imbue a sense of calm.

  • Do a fear of flying course. Flying Without Fear is an aerophobia course that helps manage flight anxiety. Air New Zealand have also partnered with Christchurch-based anxiety experts oVRcome to bring you a low-cost exposure therapy programme that you can access at any time and from anywhere. Using your smartphone and the oVRcome virtual reality headset, you can access clinically proven exposure therapy lessons that will help ground your fear of flying.

  • If you’re afraid that your fear of flying may overwhelm you, you may wish to wear a Hidden Disabilities sunflower lanyard which will discreetly signal to Air New Zealand staff that you may need special care during your journey.

  • Air New Zealand has also developed some tips to help reduce your anxiety here.

  • Remember that lots of people actually love flying! The pilots and flight attendants do this every day. Jean Batten circumnavigated the world in a Gypsy Moth – wooden construction, with a plywood-covered fuselage and fabric-covered surfaces – all by herself with manual instruments and in all weather.

  • Before you go, visit your doctor who may be able to prescribe something to take the edge off or help you sleep.

  • If all else fails, a glass of wine or two, or alcoholic beverage of your choice can help calm the nerves.

And, of course, always wear your seatbelt even when the seatbelt sign is off in case of unexpected turbulence.

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